Written by Tania Piunno
Kontron spoke at Light Reading's Open RAN Digital Symposium, the largest virtual Open RAN event of the year. Antoine Sirois, our Director of Product and Kevin Smith, our RAN lead presented a keynote and participated in a panel discussion with industry leading veterans Verizon and Deutsche Telekom.
It was a pleasure being a part of a virtual gathering that included service providers, system integrators, and hardware and software vendors to publicly discuss Open RAN, the associated virtual RAN and how it has been demonstrated to work. Industry pain points addressed during the symposium were based primarily around how the telecommunications industry can use what it has built, and industrialize processes to enable rapid deployment at massive scale.
Deutche Telekom spoke on behalf of many operators, stressing the need for industry players to stay competitive. With competition slowly decreasing, telecommunication operators are trying to find solutions that will advance innovation and create opportunities to differentiate themselves. Open RAN allows smaller market entrants to break into the ecosystem, helping operators make more informed decisions based on individual strengths and weaknesses from each vendor.
We are happy to be involved in this ecosystem where companies are leveraging the principles of disaggregation. Lowering the barrier for new disruptive technologies to come in and positively impact the closed proprietary mindset of the past is what the industry needs to build networks of the future, and it begins with RAN technology.
Best practices for open RAN deployment and optimization
Antoine pointed out during his keynote, the 3 things needed to scale RAN from a hardware perspective.
- Flexibility at server location
- General-purpose hardware (as generic as possible)
- Industrialized and secure deployments
For flexibility at the server location, you need to be able to place the distributed unit (DU) exactly where you need it – close to the antenna or at the far edge of the network - regardless of how remote the location is. A challenge we often see is that these areas are not as pretty or as clean as a datacenter. Tight shelters at the base of a tower and harsh environmental conditions such as snow, rain, ice and vibrations are not the issues we face with servers based in a datacenter. This is why it is important to use ruggedized, compact systems, built to withstand all extreme environments.
Kevin brought up a good point about how the beauty of open RAN is being able to engage with a system integrator or independent software vendor (ISV) and figure out the best solution for different points of the network. This is no longer a one-stop-shop endeavor. There are many factors that make up deployment choices and there is pressure from the ecosystem to be generic.
2. General-purpose hardware
We are often asked, how it is possible to achieve scale by keeping general-purpose hardware while at the same time making it economically viable. Software only advances an environment so far. Oftentimes, customers need hardware acceleration. Achieving this using a single CPU can be difficult which is why it is essential to get accelerators into the right environment. Timing and synchronization are hard to achieve solely through software, but Kontron hardware has the ability to do it.
3. Industrializing deployments at large scale
According to Antoine, Edge industrial deployments require planning. Maintenance, specifically, requires additional processes and best practice. The location of the servers and availability of inventory restrain many onsite maintenance capabilities. Edge environments usually requires a technician going into the field to replace the equipment, typically this is different than a datacenter expert. Secondly, you need a truck roll. The cost to service edge devices is higher than what is usually expected to maintain datacenters. Dispatching of field engineers should be managed more strictly and should be constantly optimized.
For larger scale deployments, many environments require edge server hardware that is rugged, compact and standardized. In close collaboration with leading Open RAN software vendor Mavenir, Kontron is addressing industry pain points by introducing a series of carrier-grade commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) servers optimized for these demanding environments. With our ME1100 distributed units (DUs) already being deployed and our newly introduced ME1210 platforms, we are decreasing network congestion and improving the performance of applications by getting task processing closer to the user. The series will also feature an outdoor version called the RS1210, available in two IP65 variants to resist dust, water, ice and vibrations.
Bringing security to the Edge
Our approach to security is combined with what we have learned from our Industrial business segment, that includes best practices for the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0, combined with our datacenter expertise to build a Secure Edge Management Server. Our additional software capabilities enable:
- Protection of the physical box, so in the event someone tampers with it you will be able to detect it
- Boot and run productive and secure workloads that no one else can access
- Enable preventative maintenance so you analyze proper server functionality
The importance of accelerators
As Kevin described, there are many factors that influence a decision to move to oRAN and make it a logical approach to traditional RAN deployments. One of the challenges of x86 components in the RAN space is the processing and that is why there is so much effort being put into accelerators. We recognize that with DU deployments, being able to address the wide temperature ranges we see at the cell sites is also a critical feature. The issue here is that while Intel Xeon D does provides support for these wide temperatures, it unfortunately does not have the horse power that the generic CPU brings. This is precisely what makes accelerators so important. Accelerators have the ability to offload processing which gives the CPU a chance to do its job.
To watch our keynote and panel discussion with other key industry players, access the recording HERE.
If you have questions that weren't answered, or would like to speak to us about your future RAN deployments, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.